Psychology of the Page

If you’re a reader, you’ve probably looked at a million pages. If your reading material of choice tends to be hard-copy novels (paperbacks or hardbacks) as opposed to digital books, you have no say in how the page looks. What you see is what you get. Writers, on the other hand, do have some options. We can seriously influence the way our books look, and I’m not just talking about independent publishers. Even if you publish traditionally, you might want to give some thought to just how the pages of your book, look.

If you favor lengthy, involved paragraphs, rich with exposition, description and other collections of detail, there’s a good chance your pages will generally consist of solid chunks of unrelieved text. The Bible (sans illustrations) and just about anything by Ayn Rand are good examples. Note the two page mock-ups which follow.

The one on the left has very little white space. In fact, almost every line is maxed out. The page on the right is much more relaxed. The paragraphs are shorter. There’s probably some dialog, which would account for the extremely short entries. Now, without knowing the actual content of either page, which one do you find more inviting? Which is more intimidating? Perhaps more to the point, which of these pages will take longer to read? Should that matter? Probably not. But does it matter? I think so. I believe this one issue, call it “text density,” could very well contribute to a reader’s perceptions of the story.

It works in a couple ways. In the most obvious instance, readers are moving faster through the book since there’s less text on every page. Seems simple enough. Those pages are being flipped in a hurry; the reader races through the story, and before he or she knows it, they’ve reached the end. Writers always love to hear they’ve created a page-turner. If a writer chooses to write with a little white space in mind, they can actually create one.

Then too, consider the over-all length of a book. The average novel runs between 80-100 thousand words. Let’s say yours is smack in the middle: 90K. How many pages will that require? Font size is critical; a book set in 14-point type will take 40% more pages than one set in 10-point, assuming the style is the same. Text density can also have an effect. White space can add a significant number of pages, perhaps as much as 10 or 20% more.

Imagine you’re standing in one of those little airport shops perusing the available paperbacks. You’ve got a five-hour flight ahead of you, and you want something to help you kill time. You find two books that appeal to you. One of them is 250 pages of small, dense type; the other is 350 pages of bigger type with lots of white space. The bigger book costs two bucks more. Which one will you buy?

I’m guessing the majority of readers will spend the extra money. I certainly would.

Of course, all of this is based on a much more important premise: that you’ve written a book which is absolutely worth reading — no matter what font you used, or how much white space you employed. None of that will save a lousy story, unsatisfying characters, or a hackneyed plot. A bad book will remain a bad book no matter how lovingly it’s laid out.

–Josh

 

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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4 Responses to Psychology of the Page

  1. Alice Carnahan says:

    That’s an excellent point, Josh! As I get older, I notice I like to check out large print books from the library – not only easier on my poor ancient eyes, but more inviting due to extra white space, as well. No wonder I keep writing my own books in 16 point type!

  2. Sonya says:

    Interesting and informative. Makes me want to look at setting up my book differently. Thanks.

  3. Interesting. I can honestly say I’ve never given this aspect of things all that much consideration. Time to look at it with fresh eyes, I think.

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